The War Witness: "Completely free of war romance"

The War Witness: "Completely free of war romance"

Facts: War depictions with children in focus

Malena Janson, lecturer at the Center for Child Culture Research at Stockholm University, recommends two other films with children as war witnesses:

“Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006)

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Set five years after the Spanish Civil War, the young girl Ofelia finds the entrance to a magical labyrinth. The film mixes reality and elements of fantasy as Ofelia is given three dangerous missions by a faun, while the Franco regime’s persecution of the opponents from the civil war is going on nearby.

“Ivan’s Childhood” (1962):

Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky

Tarkovsky’s debut film is about a young boy who works as a war courier during World War II and plans a revenge mission against the Nazis after his parents are murdered.

“Go and See” from 1985 is one of the most horrific portraits of war in film history. According to many, it is also considered a masterpiece. It became Soviet Russian director Elim Klimov’s (who died in 2003) last film, based on his own childhood and World War II experiences. Yet he said that “if I had included and shown the whole truth, even I would not have been able to see it”.

“It is one of the most central depictions of a child’s war trauma that really made an impression,” says Malena Janson, who is a lecturer at the Center for Child Culture Research at Stockholm University.

The child’s experience in focus

According to her, “Go and See” is one of the few films that is consistently told from a child’s point of view. The entire plot is filtered through the minds of teenage boy Flyora.

— This partly means that the narration becomes very fragmented. There is no clear dramaturgy with a beginning, middle and end. It tries to imitate Flyora’s way of experiencing an incredibly traumatic event, says Malena Janson.

Flyora (Alexei Kravchenko) lives with his mother and two younger sisters in Nazi-occupied Belarus in 1943. In the first scene of the film, he digs a rifle out of the sand and is overjoyed when he is able to fight for the partisans. He sets off against his mother’s wishes and gradually Flyora transforms from happy and naive to grey-haired and wrinkled with a thousand-mile stare. His family is murdered, he witnesses a church full of villagers burned down, and sees a woman being taken away for gang-rape.

— It is completely free of all romanticism of war. The idea of ​​the glorious war is there at the beginning and lures him out, but it’s just misery regardless of whether you fight on the Soviet or the German side, says Malena Janson.

Shows the incomprehensibility of war

She believes that the fragmentary and sometimes surreal narrative approach creates more direct, sensual impressions and that the children’s perspective provides a different understanding of the incomprehensibility and justification of war than the arranged logic of adults.

— In war, you always try to justify with an explanation that “we have to do it, this is the absolute best”. By using the child’s perspective, the illogical and utterly bizarre nature of war becomes clear.

TT: Is the film relevant in a contemporary context, considering how Russia uses propaganda to “denazify” Ukraine?

— I see partly different things in the film now than the first time I saw it 20 years ago. It is clear that it clearly wants to highlight Nazi Germany’s wrongdoings against the Soviet Union. In the afterwords it says that the Nazis burned down 628 villages in Belarus and murdered their inhabitants. This thing about “de-Nazification” – which is just a blanket excuse today – is based on wanting to keep alive that description of history in different ways.

Symbol of lost future

Flyora is not just a victim in the story but is given agency and agency. At the same time, Malena Janson points out how the child’s innocence is used as a symbol in the film’s final scene. Flyora aims her rifle at a photo of Hitler and various archive images begin to flicker past, showing the dictator getting younger and younger, until an image of a child version of Adolf Hitler sitting on his mother’s lap. Then Flyora can’t shoot, because he can’t kill an innocent child.

— The child has a very central function here as some kind of hope for the future.

TT: At the same time, surely the future is lost with Flyora’s lost childhood?

– Yes absolutely. This is one of the most pessimistic movies I’ve ever seen. There is really no future without war, misery, death and madness. And we see that today too.

“This is one of the most pessimistic films I’ve ever seen,” says Malena Janson, who is a lecturer at the Center for Child Culture Research at Stockholm University. She praises the Soviet “Go and See” (1985) for its unique perspective on war from a child’s point of view. Press photo.

Source: Then24

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